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Oxford Aldermen deny appeal for brick wall addition on South 8th Street

The Oxford Board of Aldermen denied a homeowner’s request on Tuesday for a variance to add an addition to a brick wall which obscures the front of the home.

The property in question is located at 608 South 8th Street, and originally featured a brick wall that was 5.3 feet in height with additional height added by wrought-iron grading at the top. The city of Oxford currently doesn’t allow front-yard walls and fences to exceed four feet, but the nonconforming use was pre-existing and was not the issue in question.

Instead, the problem first began in December of last year, according to city planner Judy Daniel.

“We sent our inspector out, and it was discovered on Dec. 7 that they were adding bricks to this wall that actually were going higher than the brick columns that were on either end,” Daniel said. “The columns were 6.5 feet, the wall was 5.3 and there was grading in between.”

According to Daniel, a stop work order was issued to the homeowner because he had not requested a variance and because it increased the nonconformity of the property.

In response, Daniel said the homeowner did have the bricks that rose above the columns at either end removed, but the fence was still 18 inches higher than its starting point.

The Planning Commission denied the variance request, and since then the aldermen have been contacted by an attorney, Rick Illmer. Illmer spoke on behalf of his client, Gov Slayer, during the meeting.

Illmer claimed the addition to the wall was due to damage by city workers in 2012, which caused a crack between a column and the wall. The column began to rotate, and Illmer claimed the only solution was to use a hydraulic jack and add the bricks across the top.

“I think that because it was a repair, as opposed to new construction, they thought they didn’t have to go through those channels,” Illmer said. “Had the communication been a little more clear, saying ‘put it down to the original height,’ we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Mayor Robyn Tannehill responded to Illmer’s claims, saying they were mincing words and the process that was followed was not the one that was in place.

“With all due respect, I feel that it is thumbing their nose at the city for them to stop doing this without any permit or seeking approval,” Tannehill said. “In allowing this to happen, it’s encouraging people to ask for forgiveness, rather than ask for permission.”

Illmer responded, saying it was his opinion that was not the case, but it came down to miscommunication.

Slayer spoke up at this point, providing his own reason for why the addition to the wall was so tall, citing that the worker did not speak English well and did not understand where to stop construction.

Illmer continued, referencing photos he brought in of other homes with high walls and fences. However, the photos were all of properties that had been there for 15 to 20 years, prior to the four-foot regulation, or had variances granted.

He also stated the damage was caused in part by a project of the city’s when a curb was removed. Because it is the city’s fault, he said, the variance should be granted.

However, it was pointed out to Illmer that the curb was temporarily removed in order to replace a sewer line, and that a report from public works director Bart Robinson stated the work done near the wall was not the cause of the damage.

The board voted unanimously to deny the appeal.